‘I told my children that …we needed to help get these folks out. They looked at me …and we all went to work.’
Mike Sandoval, retired fire chief; parent of two Phoenix-Talent students
I fought fire with the U.S. Forest Service for about 23 years, 15 of which were on a hotshot crew. I’m used to big fires and comfortable around big fires.
Tuesday, Sept. 8, was a normal day for us. It was my son’s (Gabe, 16) first day of school, virtual learning. So everything is online. He was excited. And about 10, 10:30 we knew that Ashland had a big fire going. Later in the afternoon we really became nervous about our home and our safety, about 4 p.m.
We had a knock on our door and our neighbor informed us that she had heard they were evacuating people. So my son and I and my daughter, (Sophia, 14), took a look around the neighborhood and realized that yeah, it was time to start packing up.
But we had neighbors that lived above us and we needed to talk to them. Both are elderly, both are disabled, both would need assistance.
It was a dangerous day. There was a lot going on in the midst of chaos. There were a lot of explosions from propane tanks, multiple aircraft in the area. It was very loud.
We knew it was hot. We knew things were getting busy. We talked as a family. I told my children that I’d been in this situation before and felt comfortable, but we needed to help get these folks out. They looked at me and they agreed and we all went to work.
We assigned Sophia as the lookout for us. That was important. We had to know we were safe and in a good spot. My son and I assigned ourselves to a neighbor. My son attached himself to Nancy and I attached myself to Betty. We did not leave their side.
They were scared. They had not been warned. They did not have an emergency broadcast sent to them. So they were relying on their community.
My mom lived in a care home about 1,000 feet away from us to the west. We had just rented this apartment to be close to her a couple of months ago. There were 53 patients in the care home and we assisted them on the way out to the Expo. They needed a lot of help that day.
The fire took our property and it took our things but we made good decisions, getting to safety and helping those around us.
Two days ago we had a real good day when we came back and recovered my sister’s urn. We lost my sister Sandra in 2018, but we had her cremated and the family kept her urn. We have her home with us tonight.
We don’t feel like we lost our home: we feel like our home was taken from us. But we won. We won. We won by getting folks out. We had a win that day and that was in seeing all the smiling faces together, holding hands that night.
OSBA is telling personal stories of hope and perseverance from the state’s three hardest-hit districts: Phoenix-Talent, McKenzie and Santiam Canyon. These “Rising from the Ashes” stories, told in images and words, will show where support is needed most to help Oregon students and their families rebuild. OSBA has established a Wildfire Resources page that includes links to donate to the hardest-hit communities: Phoenix-Talent; McKenzie; and Santiam Canyon.